Thursday, 29 March 2012

Abingdon, Sutton Courtenay and Didcot

A long planned walk, one of the few I am able to do by public transport. I took the train to Radley and walked along the wandering Thames Path all the way to Abingdon and then headed south to Didcot where I picked up the train home. Here is a map of the route:

View Radley - Abingdon - Sutton Courtenay - Didcot in a larger map

The unusually warm/hot weather continues, the anticyclone blocking the weather pattern is subsiding and drifting west at long last. The paths were dusty and cracked and the plants beginning to show drought stress, we are in desperate need of rain. Unfortunately April is usually the driest month, so the outlook for wildlife in general is looking bad. At present though all looks well along the path.

Thames Path

Catkins were very abundant, the Pussy Willow catkins being some of the most attractive.

Pussy willow,catkins

Very few buildings along this stretch, one isolated boat house is about all there was.

boat house

I think this is a tree flower of some kind, I think it might be an ash, but tricky without any leaves.


Buzzing around were quite a few insects after all the Spring nectar. The only 'unusual' one I was able to capture was a 'bee fly' (Bombylius major). It looks a strange beast, with fly-like wings but a furry body and a long proboscis. They hover around close to the ground. It turns out they are flies that are 'bee mimics' and are parasites of bumblebees so perhaps they are not 'good guys' now that bees are in such difficulties.

bee fly

Some of the most attractive flowers were cherry blossom with their cupped petals and pink undertones.

bee fly

Another attractively flowering shrub (a sycamore or maple?) possibly an ornamental one.

tree flower

Abingdon the former county town of Berkshire, is a strange old place. It has a fair selection of ancient and grand buildings, but there are many pretty shabby and bankrupt shops mixed in. It is too close to Oxford to support a large shopping centre and access is difficult. One of the most notable buildings apart from some old churches is the market hall.

Abingdon market hall

Some of the old streets around the town centre have an interesting mix of buildings.

Abingdon street

Leaving Abingdon I followed the Thames Path south towards Culham Lock - retracing my walk of two weeks ago. The Coltsfoot I had seen then was already starting to go to seed. I took a detour to have a look at Culham church, it was locked and had been aggressively cleaned up - it looked just a little too neat.

Culham church

Along the Path were patches of sweet smelling violets. Close by I saw three Orange Tip butterflies, notably early, but then the weather has had the feel of May or June not the end of March!


Leaving the Thames Path I headed south over flood meadows to Sutton Courtenay, the path takes you other a series of weirs and is quite an appealing stretch. The village of Sutton Courtenay is an old one but blighted by a busy road. The church is one that has great interest, it has been added to over the centuries as is very clear from the photograph. It has one of those zig-zag ornamented arches indicative of early Norman architecture.

Sutton Courtenay church

There are a number of interesting monuments too. The chancel has a fine 14th century tomb to a priest

Sutton Courtenay church

Leading to the tower at the West side is a curious 'Trompe l'oeil' commemorating Edmund Bradstock who founded the school in Elizabethan times; I presume that is what he is holding. He looks rather like Jonathan Frakes of Star Trek fame.

Edmund Bradstock,Sutton Courtenay church

The church's most significant claim to fame though, lies outside in the churchyard. For it boasts not only a Prime Minister:Henry Asquith but a progressive writerGeorge Orwell too. I met two people scanning the churchyard for his grave without luck until a local pointed it out to them. It is easy to overlook, particularly as it is in his real name 'Eric Blair'. Some time ago I came across the Orwell Diaries and Eric/George comes across as being amazingly perceptive.

George Orwell,Eric Blair,Sutton Courtenay

South of Sutton Courtenay there is only one thing to look at, a place that dominates the countryside for miles around, the Didcot Power Station. At one time voted the UK's third biggest eyesorehowever I have come to accept it with grudging admiration as the dominant local landmark. It is a hybrid oil/gas/coal fired power station split into two Didcot 'A' and Didcot 'B' delivering an impressive 3.4MW in all. Even the chimney is impressive, standing at 655 feet (200 metres), and there was the acrid smell of burning coal in the air too. Lorries were in continuous operation taking the ashes from the furnaces to local dumps which were being landscaped (complete with watering systems) at almost the same time as they were being constructed. There is a cycle way that runs around the perimeter fence so it was possible to get close and personal. The operation of the cooling towers can be seen, with a curtain of water falling in the lower part of the 'skirt' at the bottom of each tower.

Didcot Power Station
Didcot Power Station

It proved difficult to get to the railway station without walking along busy roads so I took paths through industrial and housing estates to the north of the town. The delights of the Didcot itself will have to wait for another day. Along the cycle way was a particularly bright Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

Lesser Celandine,Ranunculus ficaria

On these paths I saw fish in a brook and an arum lily already almost out in flower.

Arum lily

The forecast is for a cooler if not cold spell, and may be hopefully a little rain. I'll end with a typical scene along the Thames Path on this stretch of river.

Thames Path

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